The CD Singles '88-'91
An antique curio, a relic from an England that's slowly, mercifully, dying....More on
Now, in the wake of Tony Blair's brave and shiny New Britain, the ascent of Belle & Sebastian and the widespread availability of electricity, the lone Morrissey sounds sillier than ever. It's a traumatic time covered here, as he drifts from widespread acclaim to the zealously guarded property of fanatics counting the days until the Internet is invented.
The funny thing is, his solo career all started so well. 'Suedehead', 'Everyday Is Like Sunday' and 'Will Never Marry' all capture that peculiar mix of swagger and inadequacy that was once so appealing, with Stephen Street and Vini Reilly providing the fittingly grandiose backdrop none of Morrissey's other post-Smiths collaborators could manage. These three are the best examples of the obsessions he was to milk dry over the next decade - respectively: rough boys are scary yet strangely fascinating; parts of Britain are stuck in the '50s, depressing yet, yes, strangely fascinating; and - sigh - himself.
But in the late-'80s, Morrissey shifted from looking back with bitterness, to looking back with something approaching fondness while carping on about the cruelties he's subjected to every day. Thus we get 'The Last Of The Famous International Playboys' - moronic Krays hagiography - and the amusingly sanctimonious 'Journalists Who Lie'. Yeah, yeah; we build them up, we knock them down...
And when they deserve it, we kick them some more. It's hard to sympathise with Morrissey when he's happy substituting tunes and skill for limp, inept rockabilly. Or writing so many songs parodying critical responses - the deadly music hall of 'Get Off The Stage', say - they become less a wry subversion, more a self-referential dead end. Sure, we love twisted narcissism, but not when it becomes quite so deluded.
This is where we leave Morrissey in 1991. There's an air of tragedy about this box set, of a rare talent pissed away and a limited, increasingly embittered range of expression. It's a long decline that has now reached the point where labels keep recycling his back catalogue rather than release new songs. An antique curio, a relic from an England that's slowly, mercifully, dying - and that, ironically, he now chooses to keep far away from. Let's hope Hollywood's roustabouts are more inspiring.
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